Yikes! Some books are wildly acclaimed until the film comes out; Alex Garland’s The Beach was well on its was to modern classic status until Danny Boyle’s 2000 film suddenly put it in the worst possible light. Boyle had an ideal muse in Ewan McGregor via Trainspotting, but when Fox offered a bigger budget if Boyle was to cast smoking hot Titanic star and proper American Leonardo DiCaprio in the central role, Boyle abruptly switched horses. That proved a major problem, because Garland’s book thematically hinges on the British nationality of the protagonist, but that’s only one of a number of wrong turns here.
Richard (DiCaprio) is Richard, a tourist in Thailand who hears about a secret beach where a community of rebels are living high on the marijuana plants that grow nearby. Richard hears much of this from Daffy Duck (Robert Carlyle) a stereotypical comedy McBam Scotsman who appears babbling in Richard’s hotel, and then promptly turns up dead. Richard investigates, with the help of a French tourist (Guillerme Canet) and his beautiful girlfriend (Virgina Ledoyen), and they find their way out to the beach, where public-school head-girl Sal (Tilda Swinton) rules with an iron fist. Things go swimmingly, for a while, but Richard unwisely left a copy of his map back at the hotel, and soon other thrill-seekers are on their way, disrupting the island paradise…
The Beach made some coin back in the day, helped by some sleek visuals, choice musical cuts and a major star on the rise. But it really needs a remake, for tv or streaming, because Boyle and writer John Hodge make a complete bodge of this story, right down to an ending that will elicit shrugs and is very much counter to the book’s tone. Richard, as a Brit, is engaging in an abstract fantasy by evoking US military action in Vietnam as part of his atavistic decline; this plotline is muted if the protagonist is actually American, and the script isn’t adjusted accordingly to this cultural change. And the posho accents of the fellow beach community make this feel more like freshers week at uni than a tough group of societal outsiders, leading to murky plot development despite a brisk start.
The Beach should have been as popular and ubiquitous as the book it was based on, but the Enid Blyton meets Lord of the Flies notion at the heart of the writing goes for nothing here; it’s just a shonky realisation of ugly American guilt, and that’s nothing to do with Garland’s original story. Not surprisingly, the beach featured in The Beach was soon ruined by gawping visitors, a detail that fits in with the accidentally reductive, wrong-headed quality of the whole enterprise; maybe it’s time we went back to The Beach and gave the original book a more faithful adaptation than this.
The film of the book often goes awry. So many changes are required either for budgetary reasons or the introduction of a new star or simply because screenwriter/director think they can improve on the initial idea or need to make changes for length. I wasn’t so enamoured of the book so I didn’t feel insulted by the film and although it made some coin it was generally regarded as a poorer performer Stateside so maybe the public sided with you. Not a movie I would seek out again.
Some real hubris and vanity to make such bad decisions. I think in the wake of Titanic, this was regarded as a potential money-spinner, but I don’t think it did a fraction of the business….
Mostly DiCaprio has made excellent film choices. Beach did less than 10% of Titanic’s business and was his weakest performer for a decade.
That’s roughly the number I had in my head.
I actually really love this film. Maybe it was just that time in life and a fantastic soundtrack. I watched it at the cinema and was mesmerised by the scenery and it’s still as beautiful today. I also enjoy the book quite a bit, but they do feel like two different things altogether.
I hear you, and it’s still a slick package, with great photography, a big star and a super-soundtrack. But as you say, it’s really not the book at all…
I saw this back in the day, and I can’t remember a thing about the plot. But I do remember thinking that I intellectually knew this was a bad movie but I was liking it anyway. However, that was about the time in my life when watching Titanic was practically a religious experience haha, and I don’t think I would’ve allowed myself to dislike anything with Jack–excuse me–Leo in it.
Sounds like I should keep my viewing memories intact as they are and read the book instead…..
This film isn’t a complete bust, but it’s so poor compared to (memories) of the book. Ok to like bad movies, though, and at least The Beach; da Movie has enough of the original idea to compel you to finish it…but the book is a perfect Beach read, and the film shouldn’t put you off reading it…
Is this the one where they all get old in minutes?
I had to look up my own notes and found I was similarly unimpressed.
Damn. Posted that 5 1/2 years ago. As was being discussed on Booky’s blog yesterday, it’s useful to have your old reviews handy on a blog because otherwise I would have forgotten what I thought about this entirely.
It’s only be reading your reviews that I can generate ideas that are stolen from your observations, having none of my own to offer.
This ‘Instead, we get the whole experience boiled down to a happy-snappy pic on a disposable camera. These kids will always have “their” island…’
That’s the ending, but it’s the ending of a different film from this one! Oh, yes, nostalgia for when we were all killing each other…
I heard Pure Shores song on the radio this morning and was thinking about the movie. I can’t remember the ending much but the scenery was lovely. Will check out the book.
That song was a big part in the film’s success, but the book seemed way better than the actual film…
The film company badly damaged the area it was filmed in, the Thailand authorities were not very happy. Had to shut the beach they used down to help it regenerate and it’s only just been re-opened,but access is restricted to 1 hr visits with no boats allowed and no swimming. I was in Koh Samui the year after it was filmed but obvs couldn’t visit the location.
How did you know how to get there? Did you find a treasure map given to you by a deranged Scotsman?
Nope Koh Samui easy to get to by boat from Bangkok. No map needed as we travelled with an ex-pat who knew the way.
Was she Tilda Swinton?
No he was a big burly butcher.
The prosecutions rests. Lunch?
I’ve got vouchers?
2 for 1 offer for wraps at KFC. And I’ll fork out for a coffee. And you can have a Calippo too if you’re good.
Blimey you know how to show a girl a good time!
OK, any two items of your choice from the 99p menu. Can’t say fairer than that!
KFC don’t have 99p menus.
Ok, how about sharing a bucket?
If you’re that hard up I’ll pay and we’ll go somewhere decent. I don’t do the fast food crap.
Ok, what about a nice restaurant?
Yep, when I finally get to Blingfield or whatever it’s called you can choose the venue, I’ll foot the bill. Have you got any battle sites up there?
The whole place is! No, the pleasure and the bill will be all mine! Our local pub is a 16th century courthouse, that’ll do! Classy grub, and lots of history and stuff.
I’ll hold you to that one day!
Kirkhouse Inn is the establishment. Won’t book it until you’re in the area!
Don’t hold your breath but it is on the cards. We are talking chez mois of a Scottish tour.
I’ll be here to give you the freedom of Blingfield!
A movie that doesn’t stick to the book, guts it and does its own thing? Say it ain’t so!
Yeah, this is the reason (not this movie, as I haven’t seen it) I am no longer enthused when I hear a favorite book/series of mine is getting adapted to the screen.
Yup, it’s a double-edged sword; not every great book makes for a great film, and Hollywood disrespect of the original text often leads to a monumental crash and burn…
Too bad more movies couldn’t be like the new Dune, in tone and spirit, not actuality. A whole bunch of dune clones wouldn’t be good for anyone…
Dune didn’t pop the first couple of times, but the new version really shows how a tricky text can sing in the right hands…
When did you read the Beach?
Maybe about 1997? It was one of these books that EVERYONE read.